High Court orders UK Government to publish its air pollution strategy

Written by Nicholas Mairs and Liam Kirkaldy on 28 April 2017 in News

With UK air quality standards in breach of European law, High Courts orders Government forced to publish plans

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The High Court has ordered the UK Government to outline its air pollution strategy in May after a failed bid by ministers to delay its publication until after the general election.

With the European Commission issuing the UK with a ‘final warning’ over illegal levels of air pollution back in February, Mr Justice Garnham said the Government’s plans for tackling the issue must be produced on 9 May, despite ministers’ pleas, with the final draft to be finished by 31 July.

The appeal by ministers to delay draft guidelines came days before the original deadline of 24th April, with government lawyers arguing the release would fall foul of “purdah” rules, representing a “controversial bomb” for the Government.


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Ministers argued for a delay in publishing the draft plan and consultation until 30 June and the final policy until 15 September.

The Government had been ordered by the courts to produce tougher draft measures to combat illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution, which is attributed to tens of thousands of premature deaths each year.

Mr Justice Garnham ruled that the case was a “matter of great urgency” and that a six or seven week delay would slow down the process of implementing the guidelines.

“These steps are necessary in order to safeguard public health… the continued failure of the Government to comply with the EU directive and regulation constitutes a significant threat to public health,” he said.

“Exposure to nitrogen dioxide [leads to] to 23,500 deaths annually in the UK – that’s more than 64 deaths each day.”

James Eadie QC, representing the Government said releasing the publication at the height of an election period would lead to its perception as a “Tory plan”.

“If you publish a draft plan it drops all the issues of controversy into the election … like dropping a controversial bomb,” he added.

But Mr Justice Garnham added: “I simply do not understand. How can it be that a six- or seven-week delay in the process doesn’t affect achieving the objective or getting to that objective in the fastest possible time?”

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